Ah, it’s the start of a new year, and with that the start of a new legislative session.
The first scheduled day for the General Assembly to be in session in 2014 is Jan. 29.
That’s when lawmakers will gather to hear Gov. Pat Quinn’s state of the state speech.
Depending on how the election goes, it could be his last one.
The Senate is scheduled to stick around another day, but the House isn’t. That concludes January.
February starts out with a bang – 3 days in session for both the House and Senate. Then a week off to recover.
After that, both will be in session for 9 days over 3 weeks before taking another week off in advance of the March 18 primary.
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
It wouldn’t be fair not to note that 2013 was an extraordinary year for the General Assembly, all cheap-shot jokes aside.
How ever you feel about the individual issues, think about what was approved:
n Pension reform after years of trying.
n Concealed carry, also after years of trying.
n Ditto for same-sex marriage and approval of medical marijuana.
Any one of those by itself could be declared the highlight of an entire session. The General Assembly did all of those in a single calendar year.
That’s not to downplay the significance of other bills that also approved, like the ban on using handheld cell phones while driving or the changes in sex education curriculum that were also hard-fought victories for their proponents.
Can the General Assembly do as well this year? Probably not.
After doing all of that last year, it’s OK to take a breather of sorts.
Besides, this is an election year, and the natural tendency among lawmakers is to steer clear of controversial stuff as much as possible. They’ll have enough problems trying to deal with a budget that also acknowledges that a big part of the income tax hike will expire halfway through the budget year.
We’re up to two lawsuits filed over the pension reform law, with more expected.
Two weeks ago, it was the retired teachers who challenged the law.
Last week, retired state employees filed their own lawsuit.
Both essentially said the pension changes contained in the reform law are unconstitutional, particularly the annual raises in pension benefits.
The state retirees’ lawsuit didn’t mince a lot of words.
For example, it said previous governors and the General Assembly failed to put enough money into the pension systems, preferring to use them “as lenders of last resort and using funds … earmarked for pensions to pay for other pet projects.”
Claiming pension money was diverted to pet projects is a common complaint from retirees, but it may the first time it was raised in a lawsuit.
Then there’s the famous preamble. That’s a multi-page introduction to the pension reform bill itself that lays out the General Assembly’s reasons for doing pension reform, outlining the reforms themselves, and then declaring that pension reform “will lead to fiscal stability for the state and its pension systems.”
Well, the retirees didn’t share that view.
In the lawsuit, it said the preamble to pension reform “is pure political theater and not a valid statement of intent, inasmuch as it ignores the history of the state refusing to honor its obligations to its employees and retirees.”
The lawsuit contends the underfunding of the systems by the state “is the entire cause of the problem” and one that was ignored in the preamble written by people who underfunded the systems.
Not sure whether there is a legal term for calling something baloney, but that’s pretty close to what the lawsuit is calling the pension reform preamble.